Sound: When Unwritten Law released The Hit List last year, it was met with mixed reactions due to the fact many of the band's hits had been rerecorded due to label issues. The latest CD/DVD release, Live and Lawless, should likely be a fan pleaser thanks to the passion and energy injected into pretty much all of the band's classics. This is Unwritten Law in it's purest form, and you're getting a good deal of material from the band's 18-year history. While the CD is handier for listening, I would go straight to the DVD for content purposes. The CD and DVD were both recorded on March 7, 2008, at Hollywood's Key Club, a venue that appeared to be jam-packed with die-hard Unwritten Law fans. There are multiple sing-alongs on Live and Lawless, and the band made a wise decision to record close to their roots. Both disks kick off with Underground, the perfect opener with it's heavy base and high energy. Things rarely drag in the live show, thanks to an audience who delivers enthusiasm even in slower moments during Cailin and Seein' Red.
You do get a pretty good feel for the band's live show on the CD (and the sound quality is a bit better as well), but the DVD just gives more for your money. The DVD features 6 extra tracks from the live show (although the CD does include a bonus studio recording of Shoulda Known Better), and some of the best moments are actually missing from the CD. An amazing acoustic performance of Elva can only be found only on the DVD, and the raw solo featured in that same song from guitarist Steve Morris is truly a great moment as well. The introduction of the full band (including some mini-solos from each member) may seem unnecessary for the CD portion, but it's a highlight of the 2nd disk. The band's biggest hits are featured on both disks, with Teenage Suicide, the punk-fueled CPK, and Shoulda Know Better (one of the best in terms of the riff work) being the standouts. There is also a bonus studio version of Shoulda Known Better, which features an amazing transition from a Spanish guitar-like intro into a pure rock sound. Other songs included in the full hour-and-a-half Key Club show include California Sky, Mean Girl, and Celebration Song. // 8
Lyrics: There won't be too much that is out of the ordinary for Unwritten Law fans on Live and Lawless. This is essentially a live version of a greatest hits package, but there is a good range of topics covered. You get the extremely sweet (Cailin) to the raunchy (Babylon), and as the audience clearly showed by singing along with every song, there isn't much you haven't heard before if you're a fan. // 8
Overall Impression: There are some issues with the sound mix, and that is probably the main strike against Live and Lawless. The cleaner tones of the electric guitars do tend to get lost in the mix at times, and there are moments when it's hard to tell if the song has started yet or not because of the mixing issues. It is a live concert, though, and for the most part Unwritten Law puts on a solid performance. Vocalist/guitarist Steve Russo puts everything he's got into his performance, while new drummer Dylan Howard proves why he was chosen by the band. It was a very nice touch adding the DVD to the package, and it's on that disk that you're likely to get the full live experience. The DVD is not edited as perfectly as what you'll get on the CD, of course, but it also is a lot closer to the real Unwritten Law live show. // 8